Actually, it isn’t.
Tim Kawakami, Gwen Knapp, and Scott Ostler have all written reaction pieces to the violence at the 49ers-Raiders game at the ‘Stick on Saturday night. They and national writers are waxing societal on the incident, yet they are all missing the forest for the trees in their analyses. It really all comes down to two things:
- It was a Raiders-49ers game.
- The game was played on Saturday night.
When the Raiders came back to Oakland, there would be occasional warnings about behavior and violence for Sunday or Monday night games, especially if they were “Broncos” or “Chiefs” week. Those 5 PM starts allow for full daydrinking sessions (which are hard work), which can lead to an unstable atmosphere once people are allowed into the stadium. A fully marinated jerk who can’t hold his liquor may be friendlier or more hostile. Everyone’s different. For Sunday and Monday night games, a guy has to think about the next day’s work. In my youth I’ve gone into work with a hangover a few times, but at least I had to consider the potential consequences. Usually it meant I held back on that extra beer or shot, and that was enough. Not everyone is going to have the conscience kick in at the right moment. Still, having that lingering in the back of one’s mind helps a lot of people.
By putting the game on Saturday night, the teams and the NFL gave the jerks carte blanche to act however they pleased. A full day of tailgating or partying (one assailant may have come on a party bus) with no consequences to think about for the next day is exactly the kind of atmosphere needed to set off what occurred at the ‘Stick. Maybe there was a gang-related factor. Or maybe it’s because both teams are mediocre. Whatever the case, there’s no doubt in my mind that a few assholes having a few extra beverages turned an already tense (even though it shouldn’t be) game into a powderkeg.
In the Midwest and on the East Coast, this problem doesn’t occur nearly as often. It could be because they can hold their liquor better. I’d like to think it has to do with the start times of the games. We are so used to 10 AM and 1 PM starts here that a 5 PM (or later) start is too much for the system to take. In Chicago or Dallas, the late game means a 3 PM start. In Philadelphia or New York, SNF/MNF starts after 8 PM locally. They’re used to it. They pace themselves. We in the Bay Area may have access to some of the greatest beer and wine on the face of the earth, but we sure can’t handle it correctly if this incident is any indicator.
Because of the actions a few there’s a good chance that the NFL, in its reactionary turn towards safety this season, will disallow future 49er-Raider preseason games. Why risk another PR nightmare? However, they can’t stop the two teams from playing each other once every four years during the regular season. They might be able to put in metal detectors in at the stadium gates, but they’re not going to be able to search every car for weapons. Police state measures are impractical, especially at the emergency management nightmare that is Candlestick Point (poor access).
Now let’s assume that the 49ers and Raiders share a Santa Clara stadium. This incident will only confirm misgivings by many locals in the immediate area – especially about Raiders fans even though it may be unfair. It’s likely that the tailgating scene will be limited due to a lack of space and facilities. That won’t stop an incident from occurring at the Bennigan’s down the road from the stadium, where idiots in party buses could come into conflict. A 1 PM start just might rein things in enough that the potential for a conflict is significantly less. The crazy thing to me is that both teams’ management should have seen this coming a mile away and didn’t adjust accordingly. Did they schedule the 5 PM start just to sell as many tickets as possible for a preseason game? The place was half-full. Whatever the motivation, both teams and the league have a lot of explaining to do, have had plenty of precedent to plan accordingly. No amount of defending fans against stereotyping is going to help. It happened. Fix it or it will happen again, and much sooner than can be imagined.